City Begins To Clear Alley Rights Of Way

I met with an upset Citizen this week that couldn’t believe the City wacked her shrubs along the alley.  I could understand why she was upset and apologized for what happen.  Then I explained why we are doing the clearing.  The City maintains an alley right of way to allow for things like snow removal, garbage collection, utility company maintenance, and fire protection services.  

The standard alley right of way is 20 feet.  It usually falls 10 feet on either side of the alley, but anyone can drive around Morris and see that the alleys are nowhere near 20 feet wide and in some cases are not straight.  

You can get a good idea of where 20 feet might be by looking at the driveway going into the alley from the street.  If you stand on one edge of the driveway and look down the alley, you will notice that the gravel probably doesn’t come out that far, and in most cases, there are many things in the way.  Trees, shrubs, garbage can racks, garages and many other things.  

You might ask what the big deal is and I have to redirect you back to the beginning of the blog.  The alley provides access for things like snow removal, garbage collection, utility company maintenance, and fire protection services.  All of these require large pieces of equipment.  In the case of electric power, you may notice poles in your alley.  Utility companies typically place poles at the edge of the right of way to leave room to drive on the alley.  Step off 20 feet from a power pole to the other side of the alley and see what that looks like.  Also, look and see if any trees or shrubs are growing into the power lines.  This is another common problem we see.

City zoning rules allow property owners to put in things like fences, shrubs and trees, but it has to be done on private property, not on the right of way.  In many cases, we are seeing shrubs and trees outside of fences.  I’m pretty confident that most fences are on private property.  I’m also pretty confident that most fences are near the property line.  It follows in logic then that anything outside the fence is probably on a right of way of some type.

I’ve been asked why the City hasn’t notified individuals before clearing the right of way.  The easy answer may be that we don’t have to notify anyone about activities in the right of way, but that isn’t the case.  The answer is that it would be very time consuming to identify all the properties that have issues, find out who the owners are and then send a notice to each owner.  This Blog is being written to help inform people about what we are doing and why.  I’ve also discussed this several times at the City Council meetings.  I’ve also talked about it on the radio.

We are trying to provide the best service possible and maintaining the proper alley rights of way is a critical part of that process.  If every Citizen would make sure that things are kept away from the alley, then our job would be much easier.  Also, in the winter, it is very important that we have enough room to plow snow off to the side.  If not, then the alleys can’t be used properly.

5 Responses

  1. Michelle Marotzke

    This really is a catch-22 for the City…if you clear the brush, it’s upsetting for citizens who like to maintain greenery and do a good job of maintaining it. However, if you don’t clear it, the alley can’t be maintained in winter weather, and you’ll have upset citizens for that…hopefully citizens understand that. They may not agree with it, but as long as they understand, the goal has been met.

  2. Jeff Lamberty

    Out of curiosity, what are you doing about more permanent structures (garages, sheds, etc)? Especially in those cases where property owners on both sides have encroached on the right-of-way, directly across from each other? To my mind, this would be far worse than shrubs/bushes etc, as they are much more effective stoppers of snow during plowing (and it’s harder to force wide equipment between that than between relatively weak shrubbery).

    1. morris

      Great question. It is much harder dealing with permanent structures. They are grandfathered in to some extent. We started identifying some substandard structures and will begin a process to remove them. Any new structure has to be off the right of way. In some cases, the rules probably came in after the structures were built. In one case, we have an alley that doesn’t have an official right of way designated on a map. The City has been maintaining it for decades, so we take the position we have the right to keep it. Unfortunately, there isn’t 10 feet on either side of the alley. The entire alley is on one side for the property owners. I don’t believe we have any buildings that prohibit us from getting through. This is probably true for the trunks and bases of the trees and shrubs too. Its the branches that encroach into the right of way and make it difficult to get through. The best thing any property owner can do is learn where your property line is and then just stay on your property. It isn’t the curb in front or the gravel in back. In most cases, there should be metal property pins at the corners of the property lines. They can be found with a metal detector. Otherwise, the only way to know is hire a surveyor.

  3. upset property owner

    I am very upset with the way the city cleaned up the alley behind my home. I understand that it needed to be done and I was totaly fine it the project. But when the cith came through to do the work it looked very unprofessional. I still have branches in my yard that never got raked up, plus when they trimmed the trees they left them looking like crap. The ends of branches have bark torn back along the branch damaging them. I nicely asked the city worker to take those branches down and cut them next to the trunck of the tree to prevent harming the tree from disese and pest plus it made their trimming work look clean and professional. He said that would be no problem and would take care of that. The problem is it never got done. I also called the city about it and was informed that it would be taken care of. ITS BEEN OVER 4 DAYS and it still hasent been addressed. If the city is going to take on projects like this please do a professional job and clean up after themselves.

    1. morris

      Please call City Hall and ask for Blaine Hill, City Manager. I’m unaware of this issue and will personally look into it. We talked about the need to make sure that when we trim trees and bushes, that it is done right. You are absolutely right about the branches needing to be cut back to the trunk. They shouldn’t be stripping bark off either. Let me know where you live and will come down and take a look. Anyone else that has an issue with the way we did work, please call me too.

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